Myth means a story that is, although not true but believed as a true story. Heaney belongs to Ireland and Ireland has been suffering from the worst effects of politics. People in Ireland have been a minority under the British control.
They have been living under perpetual fear. Heaney believes that there is no connection between a poet and the circumstances around a poet as he elaborates it in the poem ‘Personal Helicon’. So Heaney wants to remain unconcerned with the social and political disorder or his society but what makes him pragmatic, is his deep attachment to his country. In this way he cannot remain unconcerned with political, social and cultural disorder in his county. Thus it was necessary for him to find a middle way and that middle way he finds by creating a myth. The myth is that strife and violence are a pattern of life. They are inevitable. No body can stop them, but through the message of love arid peace, the poet can provide some consolation, some redress. It means that the poet is only mourner. The progressives demand to fight against the causes of miseries that lie in politics. Heaney sees violence and misery in the archetypal pattern of humanity. He teaches people to accept miseries as their destiny. Heaney, in this way, prefers stoicism to activism. This is a pessimistic and an escapist approach of Heaney and he promotes this approach in his poetry by creating a myth.
Heaney’s poems clearly show how Heaney reconciles between poetry and politics with the help of creating a myth. The poem The Tollund Man is the best example of Heaney’s myth making in his poetry. He takes the title of his poem from Glob’s book ‘The Bog Men’ which was about the archaeological excavations in Jutland, a marshy land in Denmark. The researchers found a large number of dead bodies in Jutland. These dead bodies were called bog men. They belonged to the Iron Age or perhaps the Stone Age. The researchers concluded and Glob agrees that those dead bodies were of the people who were sacrificed in some sacred ritual. One head, which was found separated from the body, had been kept in a museum, called Aarhus. And the sacrificed man was given the name of Tollund Man.
It was thought that the Tollund man was sacrificed to the goddess of land, so that her fertility may insure the fertility of the land in the next winter. This is a version of the myth of Adonis, relating to Classical mythology. Adonis was the god of fertility and he was supposed to die in autumn and again come to life in the spring every year.
Heaney sees this sacrifice in the archetypal pattern which he applies to Ireland. He thinks that the same myth is working in Ireland also. The people of Ireland are sacrificing their lives for their motherland. Heaney starts the poem, The Tollund Man, with the idea of going to Aarhus, a museum, in order to see the atrocities and cruelties committed at that place. In the Tollund Man, he sees the fate of his fellow countrymen worst hit by the Irish war.
Heaney further says that the people, who were sacrificed for the mother goddess, were well fed before they were sacrificed. And now after a long time the seeds of that crop seem to ripen in the stomach of the Tollund Man. As Heaney says in the poem:
His last gruel of winter seeds
Caked in his stomach
Heaney has also described the physical condition of the man. His whole body was naked, except for a cap, a noose and the girdle. Perhaps it was the requirement of the ritual. The corpse that was planted in Julland has now sprouted in Ireland. He inter-links the tragedy of Tollund man with the tragedy of the people of Ireland especially the working class of Ireland. As Heaney says
Naked except for
The cap, noose and girdle
Thus by making the myth of the Tollund man, Heaney makes way for bringing miseries of his people, caused by foreign invasion, into poetry. He does not protest against these miseries nor does he want to be a heckler by making his poetry propaganda. He uses the myth, as other modern poets do, so that he cannot be branded as communist or escapist. The myth is only a device for the modern intellectuals to discuss the matters of real life, as we observe in Mourning Becomes Electra, where O’ Neill has used the two complexes: Electra complex and Oedipus complex.
Wedding Day is also an example of the myth making technique of Heaney. It is a much more political poem, but in a disguised way because of the application of myth in the poem. The title of the poem is symbolic, meaning the day of sacrifice, the day of death. Heaney concludes that every day is a wedding day in Ireland.
The Toome Road has also an echo of the suppressed minds of the people of Ireland but the poet, as usually, doesn’t discuss it as an attempt to instigate or rouse the people to protest against it. He discusses the poem in his personal unique style. He talks about the threat of state terrorism. The poem shows a sense of state of war. The army has occupied the country and the citizens are living in a state of scariness and fear. Human freedom has been blocked and the individual feels oppressed. As Heaney says:
How long were they approaching down my roads
As if they owned them?
In the poem ‘Casting and Gathering’ Heaney views the conflict in the society in the context of process of cultivation. Heaney is among those people who do not support the participation of poets in revolutionary activities. He wants the poet only to console the people through the message of universal love. That is what he says also in his essay The Redress of Poetry.
He discusses ‘the subject in a detached manner without tempting the people to fight against their miseries. The reason for this is that he does not want poetry to become propaganda.
Heaney, in fact, wants to redress the people through his art without becoming a heckler. He finds a middle way between the two extremes, between the idealist and the escapist. He uses the myth for bringing politics into poetry. The myth is that strife and violence are a pattern of life; they are inevitable, no body can stop them. So he seeks a compromise and finds it in the making of myth. No doubt, he can not keep himself detained from the political, cultural and social disorder around him. And at the same time he does not want to protest against them in his poetry. So he finds a middle way between these two extremes by making a myth in his poetry.